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Wensleydale and Swaledale lie adjacent to one another, separated by a high, undulating ridge. Both valleys travel east/west and there the similarity ends. Wensleydale is a broad bottomed ‘U’ shaped valley. Swaledale’s flatlands being narrow, the ‘V’ shape obvious.
Wensleydale’s lush greenness has traditionally supported dairy farming, cheese production etc., while Swaledale’s economy was based on more industrialised origins – lead mining for example, and also sheep farming. Both have a wonderful network of footpaths.
To drive to Muker turn left after leaving Lodge Yard and veer left at the road junction just beyond The Crown. A wondrous five-mile excursion unfolds, the road aiming skywards before descending to join the solitary Swaledale highway. At the junction turn left. Muker is a mile west, with a car park immediately before the bridge.The walk is short in distance, but extremely rich in content. So don’t be deterred from crossing the ridge. You’ll not be disappointed – I promise.
Leave the car park continuing straight ahead (don’t cross the bridge) to enter an ancient highwaytrack; immediately to the right of the road known as Occupation Road (there are several Occupation Roads within the Yorkshire Dales. The term came about during the land enclosure period of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. At that time land became enclosed or occupied – hence Occupation – a road passing through occupied land). The early stages of this track are so colourful in season. Seek the pyramidal orchid.
The track rises steeply, presenting wonderful views of Muker and the Swale gorge beyond. The hill forming the left-hand wall of the gorge is Kisdon Hill. The farm resting below the summit will be visited later. A daunting prospect, or, an invigorating challenge?
Reaching a junction a point known as ‘three loanin end’
(three lanes meet) turn right, then proceed on level terrain until a concreted ‘bridge’ has been crossed. A few paces beyond this turn right and descend in another enclosed lane with the symmetrically shaped Kisdon Hill directly ahead.
Approaching the lower end of the enclosed way the houses of Muker with its white church clock face prominent, appear to the right, while the rooftops of Thwaite are seen to the left. Arriving at a small barn turn left through the gate, cross a stream and continue in another enclosed lane, heading towards Thwaite, the next port of call.
After passing through three additional gates, descend to a narrow gate (if it has been wet you’ll hear the waterfall), cross the footbridge then follow the track to the main road (is this the end of the Occupation Road?). Turn left into Thwaite – where time has stood still, seemingly. Thwaite is a Norse word meaning – a clearing.Cross the road bridge and swing right at the Kearton Tea Rooms. Walk along the ‘High Street’, seeking a stile close to a telegraph pole. The signpost indicates – Pennine Way. Muker. No bicycles. Ignore the turn to Angram, instead continue to the next signpost and turn left (Pennine Way) – this is the more exhilarating route to Muker!
Cross two fields to arrive at a gate then turn right to walk around the field perimeter seeking a stile close to a barn. Keep following the Pennine Way route as the track rises steadily and arrives at a stile set in a limestone wall. At this point look across the valley and identify the enclosed way and the small barn, seen earlier. Graphically illustrated on this upward section are the plentiful number of barns (a feature of Swaledale) in the riverside fields. Nearly every field has a barn!
Beyond the stile follow an obvious path that runs to the rear of the farmhouse. Pass through two adjacent gates to rise in an enclosed track. At the top end of this section turn 90° right and commence a wondrous descent into Muker commencing with a green swathe, continuing down the access road.
Entering Muker turn right then left to pass St. Mary’s church and the architecturally pleasing Literary Institute, then turn left to return to the car park.The original church at Muker was erected in 1580, as a chapel of ease to St. Andrew’s, Grinton. Little remains of the original fabric due to alterations and enlargements over the years. The last major restorations were in 1890.
Prior to 1580, bodies requiring a Christian burial were carried manually to St. Andrew’s, Grinton. This involved a trek of 14 miles from Keld (4 miles west of Muker) – a journey which took two days, following a route which became known as – the Corpse Road.
The school was founded in 1678. It’s most famous scholars being Richard and Cherry Kearton, naturalists and pioneers of wildlife photography. They attended the school during the latter part of the nineteenth century. See plaques affixed to the school building.
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